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LG G3 S review: A smaller flagship phone stuffed with low-end tech

The LG G3 S has a near-identical look to its flagship big brother, but has a smaller screen and runs on low-end tech.

Andrew Lanxon headshot
Andrew Lanxon
Andrew Lanxon headshot
Andrew Lanxon Editor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe

Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.

Expertise Smartphones, Photography, iOS, Android, gaming, outdoor pursuits Credentials Shortlisted for British Photography Awards 2022, Commended in Landscape Photographer of the Year 2022
8 min read

If you like the look of the LG G3 (and who wouldn't? The camera uses lasers!) but your wallet is less keen, then meet the LG G3 S, also known as the LG G3 Beat, or the LG G3 Mini.

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5.7

LG G3 S

The Good

The LG G3 S has the same attractive styling as its big brother, its camera can take good shots and the laser-assisted autofocus is quick to lock on to your subject.

The Bad

Its processor puts in a very poor performance, its screen resolution doesn't impress, it comes with a pitiful amount of storage and it's running on an old version of Android KitKat.

The Bottom Line

The LG G3 S may come with the same name and physical design as its flagship brother, but the similarities are only skin deep. The G3 S's specs have been watered down in every way, making this little more than a low-end phone in a high-end body with a mid-range price.

As we've seen with phones like the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini and the HTC One Mini 2 , the G3 S takes the design and name of the flagship but shrinks it down into a slightly more manageable package.

Note the emphasis on slightly there -- the G3 S is a 5-inch phone, barely reducing the size of the 5.5-inch G3. It hardly qualifies as a mini phone, and with a weedy 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 8-megapixel camera and 720p screen, it doesn't match its big brother in anything other than design.

Close up with the LG G3 S, aka G3 Beat (pictures)

See all photos

Still, it looks pretty neat, it uses the same attractive Android interface and keeps the laser-assisted autofocus from the the G3.

LG hasn't given an official price for the G3 S yet, but early pre-order prices from shops in the UK put it at around £226 ($360, AU$410) which isn't too bad. Keep your eyes peeled for official pricing and regional availability.

Design

Don't be fooled into thinking the S in the G3 S name stands for "small". At 5 inches, it might be slightly smaller than its 5.5-inch big brother, but in no way can a 5-inch phone get away with being called mini. It measures 138mm long and 70mm wide, which is only marginally smaller than the Galaxy S5 . It's more comfortable to use in one hand than the standard G3, but if you're after something much more palm-sized, check out the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact , or Samsung Galaxy Alpha .

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Design-wise, it's identical to the standard G3. It has the buttonless front and curved plastic back panel that has the same brushed effect. It's not a bad-looking phone, although up close, that back panel is unmistakably plastic rather than a more premium metal -- which isn't helped by the scratchy sound it makes when you run your nails over it. The curve to the back at least feels good to wrap your hand around. Like the G3 and G2 before it, the volume and power buttons are on the back, rather than the side.

LG reckons it's more comfortable this way as it's where your index finger will naturally sit. I'm personally not all that keen on this change -- I really don't believe that volume button placement was a problem that needed fixing to begin with -- but you'd probably get used to their location after using it for a few weeks.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The plastic back panel is removable and provides access to the battery, the SIM card slot and the microSD card slot. You'll absolutely need to use a microSD card as the phone comes with a pitiful 8GB of built in storage. I'd expect such a low amount on a bottom-end phone, but not here. You'll quickly fill that up with apps and games and if you want to store music and video locally, I highly suggest grabbing a card to pop in. Although you can install apps to the SD card, not all apps can do this, so don't rely on being able to put your favourite games on the card.

Display

The 5-inch display has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution, giving a pixel density of 294 pixels per inch, which isn't particularly impressive. Particularly not when you compare it to the G3's 2,560x1,440-pixel (538ppi) display. It's lower than the iPhone 6' s 326ppi, the 312ppi of the Galaxy Alpha and the 319ppi of the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact.

While it's disappointing on paper, in practice, the difference is less marked. Icons and text are at least adequately sharp and side by side against phones like the Galaxy Alpha it's pretty much impossible to tell the difference. Against full HD (1,920x1,080p) displays or indeed the G3's 2K display, the G3 S definitely packs a less impressive punch.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

High definition images and video are perfectly watchable, but don't have quite the same level of clarity you'd find on higher definition screens. It's bright though, easily countering our overhead office lights and it has quite rich colours so Netflix and YouTube videos at least look good. For the money, it's far from a bad screen, but I would have liked to see LG pack in more pixels.

Android software

The G3 S arrives with Android 4.4.2 KitKat on board, which is a couple of versions out of date behind the latest 4.4.4 KitKat. That's a shame, but given the cheaper price tag, it's a little more forgivable. As it did with the G3, LG has heavily skinned the G3 S's interface.

The interface has the same underlying structure as any other Android phone -- multiple homescreens are available for you to fill up with apps and apps you don't want on the homescreens are stored in the app tray. LG has made a lot of tweaks to the look of Android, with its own fonts, app icons and colour schemes.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You can customise many things like the homescreen transition, the layout of the navigation buttons and even the way the screen fades to black when you turn it on to standby mode. The settings menu, while vast, is separated into four tabs, which makes it slightly easier to find the tool you're after. Even so, with so much to tweak, it's not the easiest phone to get to grips with.

The G3 S's interface looks almost identical to the G3's software, but you won't find features like LG Health (which tracks your exercise) or Smart Tips (which aims to give you tips on how better to use features or highlights tools you may not know the phone has). Neither are exactly big losses. You do at least get the remote control tool, which uses the infra-red sensor on the top of the phone.

Processor and battery performance

The phone is powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, backed up by only 1GB of RAM, which is about what I'd expect to find in bottom-end phones costing much less than the G3 S. The new 5-inch Motorola Moto G has the same processor in fact and can be picked up for £144 ($180).

Unsurprisingly, it didn't exactly blow me away with its benchmark results. It achieved 1,299 on the Geekbench benchmark test and 8,273 on the Quadrant test, putting it far below the regular G3 (3,651 Geekbench, 23,103 Quadrant), the Galaxy Alpha (23,729 Quadrant) and the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact (3,677 Geekbench, 21,077 Quadrant). It also came in a little under the 2014 Moto G 's score of 8,849 on the Quadrant test.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Although it's disappointing on paper, for everyday use the G3 S has sufficient power. Swiping around the homescreen was reasonably swift, with only a bit of a stuttering seen now and again and apps opened fairly quickly. Performance was noticeably sluggish when viewing high resolution images in the gallery though, some of which took up to five seconds to render clearly. For Twitter, Netflix, Instagram and even the odd spot of light gaming, the G3 S will cope adequately.

The G3 S has a 2,450mAh battery, which LG reckons will provide up to 15 hours of talk-time on 3G. From my own testing, I'd say that's pretty ambitious. After three hours of video looping, the battery had dropped from full to only 45 percent remaining, which is worse than average. By comparison, the Galaxy S5 Mini had dropped to only 80 percent after two hours of streaming.

The phone holds its charge fairly well in standby mode however, so if you're not a particularly demanding user -- only waking it from standby a handful of times throughout the day to check email or make a quick call -- then you shouldn't struggle too much to get a day of use. If you're a heavy user, playing games and streaming music on your morning commute and checking email and texts throughout the day then you'll likely need to give it a charge in the afternoon to have some juice left to call a cab at the end of your night out.

Camera

The back of the phone is home to an 8-megapixel camera, which is a significant step down from the 13 megapixels of the G3's camera. It keeps the laser-assisted autofocus however, which I found performed as well on the G3 S as it did on the full-sized version. The phone was quick to lock on to a subject and I rarely found it to focus on the wrong thing.

It might not have the megapixel quality of phones like the G3, or the 20-megapixel sensor of the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, but the G3 S can still take some good shots.

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LG G3 S outdoor camera test (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I was pleased with this first shot overlooking a field as there's a very even exposure between the bright sky and more shadowy trees. The colours are good too and there's enough detail to view at full screen on a computer.

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LG G3 S camera test (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

There's enough detail on this old door to jazz up your Facebook page, but at full screen, there's a definite fuzziness on the fine details that I wouldn't expect to see from the higher resolution G3.

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LG G3 S camera test without HDR (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This tree has come out well, with rich colours and a sky that's only a touch over exposed.

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LG G3 S camera test with HDR (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

With HDR enabled, the sky is brought slightly more under control and the darker areas of the tree have been lightened.

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LG G3 S camera test without HDR (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Osterley house is rather underexposed here as the phone has tried to expose only for the bright sky.

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LG G3 S camera test with HDR (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The HDR mode goes some way to rescuing some of the dark areas while also keeping the highlights in the sky under control.

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LG G3 S camera test with HDR (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The HDR mode on this tree scene has resulted in a brilliant overall exposure with lovely rich colours. Well played, G3 S.

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LG G3 S camera test, panorama mode (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The phone has various scene modes to choose from, including a panorama function, which worked well. Bear in mind though that the sluggish processor takes a surprisingly long time to stitch the panorama together once shot, in which time the camera is unusable.

Conclusion

Although the LG G3 S shares the name and design of the flagship LG G3, the similarities are skin-deep only. The processor and screen resolution have both been massively throttled down to budget-end levels of performance, the battery doesn't impress, it only comes with 8GB of storage, which means you'll need to shell out on extra storage and it's using an older version of Android KitKat. Do not buy this phone if you're looking for the same G3 performance only in a smaller size.

If you only care about having a phone that looks like a flagship, its lower price makes it more accessible than the top-end G3, but the 4G Motorola Moto G packs similar specs and costs a lot less. For a smaller phone that doesn't skimp on the specs, look towards the metal-edged Samsung Galaxy Alpha or the waterproof Sony Xperia Z3 Compact.

lg-g3s-product.jpg
5.7

LG G3 S

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 5Performance 4
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